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Annual Poll Shows Eagles Down in the Dumps

Urban Eagle Sightings

Special to The Globe and Mail

January 7, 2008

BRACKENDALE -- The Squamish municipal dump is the favourite vacation spot for wintering bald eagles this season, according to the results of the 2008 Brackendale Eagle Count, which took place yesterday in this eagle-worshipping town, 65 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Sixty volunteer counters who fanned out to 21 sites in the region found just 893 juvenile and mature bald eagles among the cottonwood trees and along the many creeks and rivers, down from 1,757 in 2007. This was the lowest number in the survey since 1991.

Four volunteers found 222 eagles at the dump, compared with just 26 in the same location last year.

But despite the unsettling sight of these majestic raptors picking among Squamish's trash, the results didn't kick up as big a stink as one might have expected.

"It's all about the salmon. The salmon didn't come, so the eagles didn't come either," said organizer Thor Froslev from Brackendale Art Gallery, which hosts a Bald Eagle Festival every January.

The count, the first in British Columbia, was started by Mr. Froslev in 1986 and has spawned similar bald eagle polls all over North America. It is closed to the public and results are used to determine the general health of the local eco-system.

"When there is not enough fish ... the eagles will find seagulls or other animals. We even saw a pair chowing down on a barn owl on the Cheakamus River last week," Mr. Froslev said.

"It's not surprising they end up in the one place where they are bound to find easy food sources [the dump]."

The annual chum salmon run, which peaks along the Squamish River and its tributaries in mid-November, decreased by up to 95 per cent, according to the Squamish-Lillooet Sport Fishing Advisory Committee.

The currently running coho salmon return, which Mr. Froslev said was higher in numbers than the chum, was nevertheless lower than historic norms.

Despite this, Mr. Froslev said no starving or sick eagles had been found and brought to the eagle hospital he opened at the art gallery last year.

He said a significant drop in salmon can be tolerated by the eco-system every couple of years.

"But what we want to know is what the return for salmon will be like next year," Mr. Froslev said.

"It's the ongoing cycle that is important".

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Authored by: richardpitt on Tuesday, January 08 2008 @ 04:01 PM EST Annual Poll Shows Eagles Down in the Dumps
I spoke to David Hancock about this article when I was at his office yesterday. In his talk to those of us on the Fraser River Safari boat tour in late December he related that the eagles we see at the Chehalis estuary and along the Fraser river can be on the other side of the mountains at the Cheakamus/Squamish in a couple of hours - and that they seemed to move fairly easily back and forth depending on the amount of food at the various sites they frequent.

In the afternoon he had observed 3 groups climbing over the Chehalis delta - one to the North West, one to the South West and one to the South East. These groups climbed on the thermals until they were all but invisible, then headed toward other rivers; the North West ones toward Brackendale - at over 100 miles/hour which meant they could be there in less than an hour as it is not far at all (about 66 miles "as the eagle flies")

The other groups likely headed either farther downstream on the Fraser (and the Vancouver dump where he counted over 300 yesterday) or to Vancouver Island, and South to streams and rivers in Washington state.

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